In what is one of the largest gifts from individuals in the 98-year history of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, long-time seminary benefactors Harold and Dottie Riley have committed $16 million as the lead gift to construct a 3,500-seat chapel on the seminary’s campus. Southwestern Seminary President Paige Patterson announced the gift to the seminary trustees during their fall meeting, Oct. 17.
Harold E. Riley is the chairman of the board of Citizens, Inc. Financial Group of Companies, headquartered in Austin. He is no stranger to Fort Worth: He is a Fort Worth native who graduated from Paschal High School. The Rileys provided a lead gift for the seminary’s Ray I. Riley Alumni Center, named in honor of Harold’s father, a 1953 Southwestern graduate.
The gift to help fund the new chapel highlights the Riley’s commitment to Southwestern Seminary students.
“We believe the new chapel is a critical need of the seminary that should substantially enhance the seminary's ability to train and equip the next generation of pastors, missionaries and church workers,” Mr. Riley said.
“Dottie and Harold Riley are among the most humble servants of the Lord Jesus and the greatest friends preachers and missionaries ever had,” Patterson said. “As a teen, Harold played and worked on Seminary Hill while his father studied in the seminary classrooms and served as the pastor of churches. Harold loved Southwestern then and he and Dottie love its students and faculty now.”
The need for a seminary chapel has been manifest for many years. The1,100-seat Truett Auditorium, opened in 1950, was initially designed as a central place on campus where convocations, graduations and other seminary-wide and community-wide events could take place. However, over the years as Southwestern Seminary became one of the largest seminaries in the United States, growth outstripped available facilities.
Since coming to Southwestern as president in 2003, Patterson has made building a new chapel one of his priorities. Two years ago, trustees authorized architects to draw up plans for a state-of-the-art chapel. A site to the west of The Smith Center for Leadership Development was selected. Patterson has consistently said that no ground will be broken until all funds for the chapel have been committed.
“The Riley family believes that Southwestern needs a chapel worthy of its noble traditions. Their gracious gift of $16 million will inspire hundreds of others to make sacrificial gifts, also,” Patterson said. “My prayer to God for Dottie, Harold, and their wonderful children and grandchildren is that God will open heaven’s blessings to them.”
Mike Hughes, vice president for institutional advancement, said the dynamics on campus will be positively impacted by the new chapel. For example, he pointed to the fact that it has been many years since there has been space sufficient to accommodate graduates, their friends and families for graduation services on campus.
“But this investment goes beyond the campus,” Hughes said. “The Rileys are helping Southwestern Seminary contribute to the citizens of our city, too. For instance, we will be able to increase attendance at our free, annual, Christmas performance of Handel’s ‘Messiah.’ The largest conference room at The Smith Center for Leadership Development holds 500, and it routinely reaches maximum capacity. This new chapel will provide an additional venue option conveniently located in southwest Fort Worth for community-wide gatherings.”
Local reaction to the Riley’s donation was enthusiastic.
“The relationship between the Fort Worth business community and Southwestern Seminary stretches back to 1910, when local leaders put together the land package that provided incentive for the seminary to be located on Seminary Hill,” said Bill Thornton, president and CEO of the Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce. “I think Fort Worth will embrace this new chapel the same way it has embraced the seminary all these years. I am delighted and thankful that Mr. and Mrs. Riley have chosen to invest in our community and the seminary in this way, and believe their investment will bear fruit for 100 more years.”
Located since 1910 on its main campus in Fort Worth, this semester Southwestern Seminary has 3,567 students enrolled in its Schools of Theology, Educational Ministries, Church Music, Evangelism and Missions, College, School for Theological Studies in Houston, Center for Theological Studies in San Antonio and in other off-campus centers in Plano, Marshall, College Station, Texas; Shawnee, Okla.; Little Rock, Ark.; and Bonn, Germany. There are 106 full-time faculty, and with 305 full-time faculty, administrators, clerical and support staff in Fort Worth, Southwestern Seminary is the 100th largest employer in Tarrant County.
Hughes said the Riley’s lead gift is a signal event in the history and future of Southwestern Seminary. He said the new chapel’s amenities and design will be 21st century tools for equipping students for evangelism and missions.
“The mission of Southwestern Seminary is to train men and women to go into all the world and reach 6.5 billion people with the gospel message,” Hughes said. “The new chapel will help the seminary fulfill this goal over the next 100 years.”